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Craft Beers and Brews

Craft Beers and Brews

North American Craft Beer Experience

May 12, 2016
Wellington Brewery Craft Beer

Each year, Shawn and I attend a lot of events in the city and the ones by Drink Inc. Events always impress us—the doors open on time, they’re busy but not so crowded that you spend your whole night in line, samples are reasonable in both size and price, food is plentiful and affordable and the atmosphere is fun and relaxed. Last year, we declared their Toronto Wine and Spirits Show the perfect date night (one we hope to repeat when it returns from June 16 to 18) and I have to say the North American Craft Beer Experience was also a really nice night out.

The North American Craft Beer Experience Event by Drink Inc. EventsWhen it comes to beer, I’m at about the stage where Shawn was with wine five years ago. I’m still the person drinking beers that are sweeter and lighter, while he has moved on to more sophisticated sipping. Still, he was great about finding introductory beers he thought would help improve my beer palate. We even found a fruit-based beer we both enjoyed—Broadhead’s Bodacious Blue Berry, which Shawn thought was quite well done for a fruit beer and I enjoyed because it was light, fruity and very far from an IPA (I still haven’t quite developed a taste for those).

Revenge of the Ginger Craft BeerWhile Shawn found Drink Inc.’s El Lado Oscuro “The Dark Side” Salted Caramel Dark Ale a bit too sweet for his tastes, I enjoyed it and I also liked trying my first beer shandie from Big Rig Brewing out of Ottawa (one of our favourite places to visit in that city) and Just Craft Soda. I don’t usually drink any sugar-sweetened soda, but Just uses natural ingredients and a shandie involves just a little bit of soda, so it was nice to give this a try. I can see enjoying a shandie on a patio in summer as an alternative to sangria.

We both found beers to enjoy from Wellington Brewery out of Guelph (he liked the Terrestrial India Brown Ale and I liked the Kickin’ Back Dry-Hopped Session Ale) and I discovered that a dark beer pairs well with spicy food. A good learning!

Shawn’s pick of the event was Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale from B.C.’s Parallel 49, but he thought the overall selection of craft beers at the event was broad and impressive, while not being overwhelming. It was also fantastic to be able to have conversations with staff from the breweries at pretty much every booth—a great way to learn more about each of the beers.

And now I’ll turn it over to Shawn for some tasting notes about beers he enjoyed checking out!

Gypsy Tears Craft BeerGypsy Tears Ruby Ale by Parallel 49 Brewing Company
ABV 6, IBU 40, dark amber (Ruby!) in colour, lasting off white head, good lacing
Nose: prominently banana, molasses, ginger, slight chocolate, peach
Taste: plum, banana, slight maple, citrus, chocolate, very slight coffee, medium-full bodied, medium-low carbonation
Definitely a favorite of the day! Very well balanced hop and malt flavors, smooth drinking and can be had with a wide variety of foods. 9/10

Terrestrial India Brown Ale by Wellington Brewery
ABV 5.9, Great dark brown colour, off white lasting foam, good lacing
Nose: toffee, caramel, slight coffee, citrus (orange peel), pine
Taste: nutty, caramel, slight cola, coffee, slight chocolate, piney hop flavor
Another one my favorites of the day. The malt and hops balance each other out excellently. Would go great with barbeque or deserts 9/10

Finest Kind IPA by Smuttynose Brewing Company
ABV 6.9, IBU 65, dark amber/golden in colour, white average lasting head, unfiltered
Nose: orange, pine, dates & honey
Taste: citrus (grapefruit), honey, quite hoppy, long pleasantly bitter finish, full bodied, medium carbonation
Overall a very good IPA, when I first tried it I would have guessed the IBU’s to be 40-50, very well balanced for having an actual IBU of 65. I would say this beer is a definite 7.5/10

Bard's Gluten Free BeerOriginal Sorghum Malt Beer by Bard’s Tale Beer Company
ABV 4.7 IBU 15-20 (very low bitterness), golden slightly amber in colour, little to foam
Nose: bubble gum, oatmeal
Taste: iced tea, slightly fruity, almost no hops, light malt, light body, good carbonation
Not a favorite of mine but definitely a good option if you have to avoid gluten. Krista liked it and would give it a better mark than me. Based on flavour alone I’d say 5.5/10. Based on the extra effort involved in making a gluten free beer I’ll say 7/10

*Shawn and I attended this event as media guests. All opinions are our own.

Book Reviews, Craft Beers and Brews

The Best Beer in the World: One Man’s Global Search for the Perfect Pint

March 29, 2016
Mark Dredge's The Best Beer in the World Book showcases the best beer from around the world.

Today, I’m happy to hand the blog over to my husband, Shawn Davidson, who was kind enough to review The Best Beer in the World by Mark Dredge for me. A newly minted beer student, Shawn is the perfect person to tackle this review (and he’ll be handling even more craft brew coverage moving forward).

The Best Beer in the World by Mark Dredge appeared in our mailbox at just the right time for me, as I‘m currently looking into making a career transition into the beer industry. I found this book to be a good way to begin my formal education, as I started reading it just before starting my first beer course at a local college.

The Best Beer in the World is full of educational and historical facts, lots of great tasting notes and descriptions of the adventures (including a couple quite drunken ones) that Dredge has taken around the world while looking to discover his favorite beer. I found the chapter on Belgian brewing particularly interesting and coincidentally read it two days before Belgian brewing history was covered in my class. The chapter helped me gain a small understanding of Belgian brewing and I felt a lot more informed while in class. One fact this book and my class truly drove home is that one chapter in a book or a three hour class will only give you a very small understanding of Belgian brewing history. It’s an extensive topic that I look forward to learning much more about.

This is a book I will keep handy for its insight on many of the world’s great beers and especially as a guide to assist in my travels. Dredge went to several destinations I hope to visit and several that I have visited and will again. For example, I’ll be in Amsterdam for the third time this summer and the book’s “City Guide” will definitely enhance my beer experience and provide some new experiences. I visit Germany every year; but this summer will be my first time driving through southern Germany and visiting Munich. Dredge’s section on Munich made me look even more forward to visiting and the book’s “City Guide” will certainly come in very handy with our planning.

Dredge is very knowledgeable about beer history, brewing and tasting. Several times I was fascinated that his tasting notes could be as in depth on his twelfth or fifteenth beer of the day as with his first or second. I guess, as with wine, it comes with experience but unlike wine there seems to be much less spitting in the world of beer!

As well as being very informative and educational, this book was a lot of fun to read. You get a real sense of the adventure Dredge was on as you read about the places visited and the beers tasted. Of course, with the amount of beer consumed in order to write this book there were some epic hangovers—and  he didn’t shy away from describing a couple. One in particular sounded absolutely horrifying considering the environment he was in and the amount he described consuming the day before. But he had a job to do and got right back to the task at hand.

Does Dredge choose a “best beer in the world” or even a personal favorite? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find that out! He shows passion and respect for all kinds of beer while writing and you definitely get a sense that I.P.A’s and pilsners are right at the top of his list. He gets quite in depth with lagers (quite the write-up on Budweiser!), and many craft beers and definitely shows appreciation for the English ales of his home country.

Dredge really drives home the fact that great beer is not simply what’s in the glass. It’s so much more than that. The people you’re with, the history and being where the beer is made all factor in. Everything from what’s going on in your life at the time to the weather can be huge factors in deciding what a great beer is or if it’s one of your favorites. This was a concept I could relate to and agree with. Dredge goes on to describe a “holiday” beer that is truly one of his favorites, even though most locals think it’s terrible and hate it with a passion!

The biggest and perhaps only change I would make here is adding more Canadian content. He mentioned Montreal, which was great (no mention of Unibroue?), but he spent a lot of time spent on the U.S. West Coast without a visit to Vancouver for its many brewpubs and microbreweries. A very small complaint and I hope he has the chance to visit some of the Canadian craft brewers for a future edition of this book.

Overall a great read that I would recommend to anyone from total beer enthusiasts to those looking for a fun introduction to beer.

What do YOU think is the best beer in the world? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

*I received a review copy of this book, but all opinions are my own.

Craft Beers and Brews

Food Pairing Friday With MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co.

June 5, 2015
MacKinnon Brothers Brewing
MacKinnon Brothers – Photo Provided

When Shawn and I attended the Toronto Food & Drink Market in April, one of his favourite vendors was MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. from Bath, Ontario (near Kingston). The samples from their booth had him looking forward to trying more of their local craft beers.

You can learn more about the brothers and the story of how they built their brewery from a former straw barn on their website (the ongoing photo blog is a lot of fun) and it’s worth checking your local LCBO to see about availability. Shawn and I have added Bath to our list of places to visit, as we’d love to learn more about the area and another great local craft brewer.

In the meantime, Daniel MacKinnon, Brewmaster, shared his favourite paring and it’s a perfect option for summer. Daniel earned his Master’s degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and has spent considerable time studying brewing in Europe.

MacKinnon Brothers Brewing

“My favorite food pairing is a good hefeweissbeir and a hearty German meal.   Sausages (Weisswurst or Oktoberfest), fried potatoes and onions with a mixed green side salad.  Great anytime of the year!

“I made several trips to Germany for both work and pleasure before starting the brewery on the farm.  It was always a good time to sit down with friends over a traditional meal and beer, which often took the form mentioned above.”

Shawn and I are actually off to Germany in a few months and I’m sure this will be on the menu for dinner one night. In the meantime, he’d happily enjoy a can of MacKinnon with sausages. He’s hoping to try their Wild Peppermint Stout next – made with organic mint hand-picked in Gananoque.

What’s your favourite summer beer pairing? Share in the comments below or on social.

Craft Beers and Brews

Prenup Pub – Beer and German Food Pairing

January 8, 2015

When I was invited to a media dinner at Prenup Pub, which recently opened at 191 College Street, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My experiences with beer have not been great ones – I just never acquired a taste for it – and pub food is hit or miss with my food restrictions (I don’t eat red meat). But Prenup is right around the corner from my office and I was curious about what I’d discover.

When I read the menu I knew this was somewhere Shawn would want to try – he is the beer drinker in our household and Prenup Pub has an extensive list of beers available. They also have a menu heavily skewed towards German and Austrian fare – foods that my husband gravitates towards. I felt like he should have taken over the blog for the night to give you a more accurate scoop on how this menu holds up.

But you’re stuck with me! And, while there were quite a few things I couldn’t indulge in, I did discover a few beers that I really enjoyed, and I was very impressed with the job Prenup Pub did in choosing beers to pair with the dishes. Wine pairing is something I take pretty seriously and I know it can be a complicated business – the talented staff member who chose the beer pairings for this meal should be commended for his excellent palate (I spoke with him briefly, but did not catch his name).

The menu at Prenup is, as is to be expected, meat heavy, but they do offer a vegetarian pizza and a hearty chicken stew, which I was able to enjoy. I really liked the stew – it was thick, creamy and perfect for a winter evening. I also thought it paired nicely with the Affligem Abbey Blonde Ale. And, always an important pub fact, the fries at Prenup are pretty darn awesome.

One of the most interesting moments for me was the dessert and beer pairing. I know wine and sweets are often a challenge, so what about beer? For this, they chose the Rudenbach Grand Cru, a sour beer – not what I would have expected. When I first tried it, I thought it was way too astringent and way too sour, but when I had it alongside a bite of the very sweet tiramisu, it worked well. The sour balanced the sweet and the finish was really pleasing. I don’t think I could drink the beer on its own, but as a pairing this worked for me.

Prenup Pub has the same owner as The Village Idiot and Sin & Redemption and they have obviously put a lot of time and money into turning it into a more upscale pub. The décor is slightly gothic with lots of chandeliers and sconces, but the atmosphere is still warm and inviting. It was very busy on the night of our dinner, with lots of students from nearby UofT filling two floors, along with several groups there for business dinners. In just a few months it seems to have developed a strong clientele.

The wine list surprised me. While it is on the lower end of the scale price-wise (a smart choice for a pub near a university), there was an eclectic and interesting mix. It seemed that while they chose to go with wines that were affordable by the glass, they had thought about what worked well with the menu. There were the expected German Rieslings and heavy reds, but also a nice mix of regions and varietals. I was surprised to see KWV’s Café Culture (a mix of coffee, chocolate and Pinotage) available by the glass. While that one is not for everyone’s tastes, it’s nice to see Prenup taking a chance with a unique selection. With a student-heavy clientele, that makes good sense to me. I may also have a soft spot because KWV’s Izele Van Blerk was one of my favourite winemaker interviews of 2014.

Will I go back to Prenup Pub? I don’t think I’ll have a choice! When I got home and told Shawn about our dinner he was eager to try things for himself. I’m game to check out more of their menu and maybe even try another beer pairing, if I’m feeling daring!

*This meal was complimentary, but the opinions are 100% my own.